Two judges on the Utah Court of Appeals believe police interrogating Timothy Singer in the hour following the shooting of corrections officer Fred House may have tricked Singer into admitting to the shooting.
Singer has appealed his conviction of manslaughter in the Jan. 20, 1988, death of House on the grounds that federal officers questioning him after the shooting violated his constitutional rights when they persisted in talking about the 13-day siege between police and the Singer family after Singer said he didn't want to talk any more.Creighton Horton, assistant Utah attorney general, argued that the statements the officer made following Singer's refusal to talk were just "casual conversation."
But Utah Court of Appeals Judge Gregory K. Orme said during Singer's appeal hearing that a "scrupulous interpretation" of Miranda v. Arizona "does not include chitchat aimed at the defendant" after the defendant said he didn't want to talk.
An hour after House was killed, two federal officers put Singer in a car and drove him to Salt Lake City.
They read Singer his rights and carefully reviewed them with him, Horton said.
Singer agreed to talk and officers began questioning him. But after a few minutes of questions, Singer said he didn't want to talk any more.
At that time, Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms officer Felix Garcia expressed to Singer and his fellow officer how much he missed his family during the 13-day siege at the Singer farm and how eager he was to see them again.
Following that statement, Singer began talking about his own family, which led to conversation about the 13-day siege and the revelation that he was the one firing at the building House was in when he was killed.
Utah Court of Appeals Judge Judith M. Billings told Horton that Garcia's comments about missing his family amounted to "trickery."
"To me, conversation about being with one's family is directly related to the incident. The officers said the siege
was hard on them because they missed being with their family. That leads a 21-year-old to think, `Well, I was with my family and, believe me, it was a long siege for me, too.' That almost seems like trickery to me."
Billings said she also considers it relevant that the officers did not tell him that any police officers had been wounded or killed in the shootout.
"I guess we'll never know what Singer would have said had the officers scrupulously respected Singer's right to remain silent," Orme said.
Horton insisted the officers did scrupulously honor Singer's rights. The conversation about the officers' families lasted only three minutes before Singer volunteered to tell them the whole story behind the siege, he said.
Three minutes was not long enough to "lather" Singer up enough to override a strong conviction that he wanted to remain silent.
The state contends Singer talked willingly and was not manipulated into it by the officers' talk of their families.
Despite the judges' comments, no formal opinion on Singer's appeal was made. Judge Regnal Garff was the third judge on the bench during Monday morning's oral arguments.
A written decision on Singer's appeal is pending. Singer is serving state and federal sentences for House's death.